It’s a cry that has echoed through every art form at some time or another: that rigidity limits creativity, and limits the potential of that art to reach its greatest form. The winemakers of Italy, and today’s “Great Grape”, Sangiovese, are no exception and have battled governmental rigidity to establish their own niche in the international wine scene.
A base grape for many of the red blends in the Italian region of Tuscany, Sangiovese was subject to strict blending laws as per the Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata ( E Garantia), or DOC(G) system, established in 1980. Winemakers looking to produce wines other than the standard regional offerings that qualified for DOC status were forced to label their carefully crafted wines as vino da tavola, or simple table wine, severely limiting their marketability and price point.
As far back as the 1970’s however, stubborn producers began experimenting with the addition of well-known varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as a way to make Sangiovese-based wines more palatable to a wider audience. Led by Piero Antinori, who cut the white varieties in Chianti and began adding Bordeaux grapes instead, they lobbied the system to add a creativity-friendly level to the DOC(G) that allowed for more experimentation and the recognition that these atypical wines were still of high quality, and thus not to be branded with the low-end vino da tavola designation.
So was created the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) level of the classification system. Regulations, while still clearly outlined, were relaxed with regards to the types of grapes that could be included, based on the region that the IGT wine was produced in. For Tuscany, this led to the birth of the so-called Super Tuscans, a powerful group of expanded blend wines that often command top dollar at auction and are highly prized internationally. The first Super-Tuscan is regarded as being Antinori’s own Tignanello, a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc.
Through systemic flexibility and the broadening of traditional ideals, Sangiovese found new blood along side Cabernet and Merlot, rogue Italian winemakers were tucked back into the regulatory system, and the wine industry encountered fuller-bodied, intriguing Tuscan reds. A healthy production of tradition DOC(G) wines from Tuscany still exist, making a regional flight of reds a tasting to be reckoned with; try sneaking a Super-Tuscan in with cousins Chianti and Brunello and enjoy the area’s winemaking diversity.